Lower arsenic standards for rural people in the US

Proposing substandard water

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Froth: Chemicals are out a proposal by the United States Environment Protection Agency (usepa) to lower standards pertaining to chemical contaminant limits in drinking water in rural parts of the country is facing stiff opposition.

It is feared that if passed, the March 2, 2006, proposal would weaken the drinking water standards in us and might lead to a two-tier system: with cities getting better and safer drinking water and rural areas receiving water with higher levels of toxic chemical contaminants. usepa is going to take a decision on the proposal very soon and says that the proposal is drawn from the arguments (of interested parties) that its current criteria for drinking water are too stringent for small drinking water systems to comply with.


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But environmental groups, consumer rights activists including the Natural Resource Defense Council and Sierra Club, the country's largest environmental organisation, are campaigning to prevent usepa from enacting the proposal. They say the proposal would permit small water systems, serving 10,000 or less residents, to have three times higher levels of toxic contaminants in drinking water than the current usepa limits. This, in turn, will affect about 50 million people (particularly from the lower income group) who live in small towns and rural areas.

The prime questionable contaminant in the proposal is arsenic, a known carcinogen . Following a study on arsenic in 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences, usepa had made a special amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act 1996 and lowered the permissible arsenic levels to 10 parts per billion (ppb) from 50 ppb in 2001. Drinking water systems were mandated to comply with the new arsenic limits by January, this year. But the proposal seeks to raise the arsenic levels to 30 ppb from 10 ppb.

T he proposal is in keeping with the Congressional orders, so that both public health protection and economic affordability can be achieved together," says Benjamin H Grumbles of usepa .

It is also feared the proposal might lead to a political standoff in Capitol Hill, as Congressman Henry A Waxman (Democrat from California), who had helped write the 1996 Drinking Water Act, opposes these changes. "If finalised, it would allow weakened drinking water standards, not just in rural areas, but in the majority of drinking water systems in the us," says Waxman.

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